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16 out of 270 Seats Filled in New City-Run Pre-K at Astoria School

By Jeanmarie Evelly | September 21, 2015 6:02pm
 Most Precious Blood School at 32-52 37th St. in Astoria.
Most Precious Blood School at 32-52 37th St. in Astoria.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

ASTORIA — Only 16 children enrolled in a new pre-k program that opened at a former Astoria Catholic school building this fall, despite the Department of Education leasing the site to fit up to 270 students.

The low turnout for pre-k at the former Most Precious Blood School building has local educational leaders pushing for answers on how the DOE will use the extra classroom space, which is located in one of the more crowded districts in the city.

"When we hear that a building is bought and paid for and is sitting essentially empty, it's concerning," said Deborah Alexander, co-president of the Community Education Council for District 30.

She said the council was told by the superintendent's office earlier this month that only two classes of eight children each were enrolled in the new pre-k program, located at 32-52 37th St. off Broadway.

The building had previously been home to Most Precious Blood School, which had been in the neighborhood for more than 50 years before the Diocese of Brooklyn shuttered it in June, citing costly repairs needed at the site and declining enrollment.

The DOE told DNAinfo New York in July that it was leasing the building to create a new pre-k program for 15 classes of up to 270 students.

A spokesman for the DOE declined to say how much the city was paying to rent the site, but said in a statement that they're continuing to recruit students for the new program.

"We are continuously reaching out to families — by calling, knocking on doors, and visiting community events — to ensure each family finds a program that is right for their child," DOE spokesman Jason Fink said.

"These classrooms are a long-term investment in Queens and we are continuing to enroll students at this site, and are pleased to offer free, full-day, high quality pre-k at this site for years to come."

Alexander said she and the CEC are looking to set up a meeting with the DOE's District Planning Office to discuss the underutilized site.

"We'd like to know what they envision for Most Precious Blood if the pre-k enrollment does not expand to what they foresaw," she said.

One possibility would be to use the extra space to create a whole new public school, or to take in students from existing schools in District 30 that are currently overcrowded.

"Alleviating overcrowding would be the first concern," Alexander said. "Wherever we can sort of let some air out of the balloon would be great."